Million Dollar Island
A mega-sized cast in Seven's new reality show is at risk of leaving the viewer oddly detached from investing in the characters.
If you were to multiply the number of Australian Survivor contestants by a factor of four does it get you four times the entertainment?
That’s just what Million Dollar Island attempts to do in Seven’s ambitious new reality series.
As the title suggests, it is also double the prize money of the popular 10 series, but not double the entertainment.
The comparisons will come thick and fast on this new format, co-developed by reality king John de Mol (Big Brother, The Voice, Deal or No Deal).
Yet I can’t help but feel this is one of those occasions where somebody dreamt up the title before the concept.
The crescent-shaped Malaysian island, with its aqua blue waters, palm trees and limestone cliffs, looks escapist enough, although my Million Dollar Island would probably come with a luxury resort, hammock and horizon pool, thanks. Instead, these 100 contestants will be forced to fend for themselves like that other show I will try to avoid constantly mentioning.
Arriving by long boats are the 100, from all walks of Aussie life, battlers, mums, grndmothers, real estate agents, carpenters and personal trainers. They jump into the waters with their luggage and make it to the arena, where host Ant Middleton reveals the final three players will have the chance to play for a share of $1m.
To get there, everyone is gifted a wristband worth $10,000 and accrued by winning challenges.
A giant spinning wheel, possibly inspired by a Mayan temple, sees one player given the power over challenges. Losers are sent home but not without gifting their wristband to a fellow player.
There are 4 rudimentary camp sites, just metres from the beach: Top, Vine, Rock and Log, assembled after an all-in scramble for basic food supplies that looks like a 9:01am at a Myer stocktake sale. Civility goes out the window.
“Even in COVID in the supermarkets, it wasn’t like that!” one woman insists.
There’s a loudspeaker beach tower, reminiscent of Lost‘s Dharma initiative, from which Middleton’s voice barks orders (probably dubbed in via post-production).
In episode 1, #95 Mike, a 40yo personal trainer from NSW, wins the power to determine which 6 players will compete for survival in physical challenges. But how do you choose who to play when you barely know anybody’s name… and will your decisions backfire on you later?
The first challenge involves swimming and stacking blocks, while an amphitheatre of 94 other contestants yell and cheer them on. Host Ant Middleton attempts to narrate the action but is no Jeff Probst or Jonathan La Paglia.
And while that other show sees losers scrambling ahead of a tribal vote, Million Dollar Island basically has its equivalents begging for a wristband from those looking to quit the contest. With 100 to choose from, producers have ensured there will be those having second thoughts, missing home, hating the camp conditions, starving from lack of food or all of the above. I’m not so sure it makes for genuine drama, and history has shown Aussie viewers don’t like quitters.
But it does add a social element, because your longevity in the game could depend on the relationships you forge, if suddenly without wristband.
With such a bulging cast, producers also hone in on the 6 challenge contestants, via fleeting relationships or conflict and backstories about life back home. Problem is, three episodes in and I am struggling to remember anybody’s name. Highlighting the six contestants also means there is not enough through-line for me to cheer the hero or hiss the villain. There are still cast members yet to have any decent camera time.
The episodes are also too long, stretched by a sloppy edit such as having to watch every contestant walk up and throw their wristband in a giant bowl. Or every contestant reacting to being chosen by Mike. Or, in episode two every contestant given individual shots to knock out someone out. The director should have grouped some of these together and trimmed the running time.
Ant Middleton, best known for yelling at SAS Australia contestants, is thankfully more cheerful and supportive on this occasion, although as host / narrator, his pronounciation of “60 fousand dollars / nuffing / anuver person” is hard to ignore.
With 100 cast and around 5 to be eliminated each episode, you’d be forgiven for thinking this could be a whopping 20 episodes -but fear not, there’s a twist coming that will address that question quickly.
Seven last attempted a tropical reality contest with The Big Adventure in Fiji, (there’s even a similar challenge here). This cast is more diverse, but for a John de Mol format I expected something more original than simply reworking ideas largely employed by others in the genre.
Sacrificing such fundamentals as caring for character in favour of a super-sized cast is a real spin of the reality wheel indeed.
Million Dollar Island screens 7pm Monday, 7:30pm Tuesday / Wednesday on Seven.